Christel Henke Of STIR Advertising & Integrated Messaging: “Always be ready with your pitch”

Always be ready with your pitch. Whether you are there to promote yourself or a client, always have an elevator pitch ready. An elevator pitch should briefly highlight who you are and what you do. A surprising number of people come to networking events unprepared. As a part of my series about the things you […]

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Always be ready with your pitch. Whether you are there to promote yourself or a client, always have an elevator pitch ready. An elevator pitch should briefly highlight who you are and what you do. A surprising number of people come to networking events unprepared.


As a part of my series about the things you need to know to excel in the modern PR industry I had the pleasure of interviewing Christel Henke.

Christel Henke oversees public relations, social media and content development at STIR Advertising & Integrated Messaging in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is an accomplished public relations professional with more than 25 years of experience in local, regional and national media relations, social media and content strategy for consumer and business-to-business clients. Her previous experience includes leading the public relations team at Laughlin Constable and establishing her public relations consulting business called PRWORKS.


Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was in college studying journalism, I served as editor of the university’s student newspaper. I knew that I loved to write, but it wasn’t until my friend wanted to get media attention for a fundraiser that I discovered I could build my career in media relations. I took it upon myself to pick up the phone and call a few news outlets to coordinate a TV opportunity. Once I found out you could make a career out of pitching stories to the media, I was hooked.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

There have been so many interesting situations, but one that stands out was a crisis in the early 1990s that our public relations team was called to help on. One of my clients, Bridgestone Firestone, was experiencing hundreds of injuries and deaths related to tire failures on Ford vehicles. Each company publicly blamed the other for the situation and ultimately it fractured the nearly 100-year relationship between Ford and Firestone. We were just one agency called in to help with media inquiries and it was one of the most high-stress and insightful situations of my career.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons you learned from that?

During my first internship at a nonprofit organization, I coordinated a few radio interviews for the executive director to promote an event. The morning of the event I got a panicked call from a radio host saying the guest (my boss) didn’t dial in. The host talked me into going on the air and handling the interview myself. I stumbled my way through my first on-air interview and my boss was not thrilled.

Instead of participating in the interview on a whim, I should have taken a few moments to calm the host down and put him on hold while I called my boss to see what was going on. She had been on hold with the station’s receptionist and was having trouble getting through.

After the event was a big success, we both had a laugh about the situation. It was the perfect lesson on the importance of slowing down to problem solve unexpected challenges that arise during media relations.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on?

Last year I helped lead the public relations for the world’s largest root beer float drive-thru event for Sprecher Brewing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In a normal year, that might not seem like a big deal. But in 2020, when most events were cancelled and people were fearful to gather, we found a creative and safe way to invite the city to enjoy a free root beer float. Not only did we give away nearly 20,000 floats in one day, we generated a ton of press coverage and boosted brand awareness for Sprecher Brewing. While my success was measured by attendance and media mentions, I found the event to be successful in another way — bringing smiles to the faces of so many with a sweet tooth during a tough year.

Currently, I’m very excited to be part of the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin local media relations team. My colleague and I help tell the stories of the inspiring farmers and cheese companies in the great dairy state. We are not only focusing on the amazing dairy products themselves, but we are also sharing stories about sustainability and business growth during a challenging time for the industry.

What are your ‘five things I wish someone told me before I started’ and why? Please share an example from each.

  1. Reporters are people too. Media relations can be intimidating when you’re starting your career, but it’s not a discipline to run from. Understand what angles/topics reporters are covering and do what you can to make their job easier. In the beginning of my career, I was a bit anxious to reach out to reporters because I felt more like they were doing me a favor. Now, I understand that I’m really helping them. Through relationship building you’ll learn how to make their jobs easier and, as a result, get incredible stories shared about your clients or brand.
  2. You don’t need to be an extrovert to be a public relations guru. I’d say it’s less important to be the life of the party and more important to be naturally curious, a great listener and a creative storyteller.
  3. Rejection is part of the job. If you spend every day pitching stories to reporters, you are going to get turned down. Don’t take it personally. Learn from every failure. Sometimes it has nothing to do with your pitch and everything to do with timing.
  4. Glamor isn’t everything. Many public relations professionals gravitate towards working with high-profile or glamorous clients. While those clients are fun, it’s important to be open to all relationships. I’ve found that some of my best client partnerships have been with lesser-known brands with smaller budgets. They are usually very appreciative of my efforts to build brand awareness and are open to creative ways to maximize their marketing dollars.
  5. Spend more time learning about budgeting in school. Once you take on a leadership role in a PR agency, you spend a lot of time creating and managing client budgets. For me, it wasn’t something I could just learn on the job.

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

Networking has certainly been more challenging during the pandemic. Whether it’s at an in-person meeting or informal get-together on Zoom, here a few things that have made networking more successful for me:

Prepare for the discussion. Learn a little about the background of whomever will be at the event and have a few conversation starters or questions ready to go. Nothing breaks the ice quicker than a common interest to chat about.

Always be ready with your pitch. Whether you are there to promote yourself or a client, always have an elevator pitch ready. An elevator pitch should briefly highlight who you are and what you do. A surprising number of people come to networking events unprepared.

Ask questions and listen. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation and ask open-end questions that allow you build on the answers. Networking is about building relationships — not just making contacts. People like to know that you are listening and appreciate their experiences.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

I’m a fan of any book by Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point was a fascinating exploration of that magic moment when an idea, or social behavior, takes hold of the public conscious and spreads like wildfire. It’s a must-read for any marketer or those who want to drive social, or any, change.

In my own career, it helped me understand that sometimes the smallest actions taken at the right time and in the right place can create a ‘tipping point’ for products or trends. Gladwell references a ‘stickiness factor,’ which is the unique quality that causes something to stick in people’s minds and influence their behavior. I often help my clients find and sometimes even create that ‘stickiness factor’ that helps their products or services to stand out from competitors. As Gladwell says “There is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible. All you have to do is find it.”

Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Inspired by the times we are living in, I’d have to say a truth movement that focuses on reducing the fake news and false information shared so widely every day — especially on social media. There are a lot of smart, hard-working journalists who are striving to share accurate news. However, they are being drowned out by groups that conspire to cause confusion and divide. It’s a world-wide problem and I’d love to play a role in solving that.

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

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